Playwright Christopher Durang Diagnosed With Aphasia

Christopher Durang, one of American theater’s most accomplished and acclaimed playwrights, has been diagnosed with logopenic primary progressive aphasia (PPA), a rare disorder of language which, according to a newly published report, “has curbed the prolific author’s career.”

The disclosure of Durang’s condition was made by the playwright’s family and friends to the website Broadway News.

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“This illness is a terrible illness,” said André Bishop, producing artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater and friend of the playwright. “For a writer, in particular, who deals in words, to not be able to find those words is a great sadness.”

The diagnosis marks the second high-profile case to be disclosed in recent months, following the announcement in March that Bruce Willis is stepping away from acting due to aphasia.

According to Broadway News, Durang began showing symptoms in 2012 and a neurologist diagnosed aphasia. A second opinion was sought and provided by aphasia specialist Dr. Murray Grossman, who said that the playwright was complaining about “word-finding difficulty.”

Logopenic PPA is described as a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that targets the language centers of the brain rather than memory. According to Broadway News, Durang’s long-term memory remains intact, but he has difficulty “producing and comprehending speech.”

Durang won the 2013 Best Play Tony Award for his hit comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and has written some of modern theater’s most beloved and acclaimed plays, including Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (1979), Beyond Therapy (1981), The Marriage of Bette and Boo (1985) and Sex and Longing (1996), to name a relative few.

Durang retired from his teaching and administrative positions at Juilliard in 2016, and in 2018 he saw the stagings of a new play (Turning Off the Morning News) and a Wendy Wasserstein musical for which he wrote the book (Pamela’s First Musical).

In 2017, the Nashville Repertory Theatre held a reading of Durang’s latest — and likely final — play, Harriet and Other Horrible People, which the playwright attended.

There is no cure for PPA, though some treatments might slow the disease’s progression.

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